Hawaii Whistleblower Laws

Whistleblower laws in Hawaii at the state level

A Summary of Hawaii Whistleblower Laws

Hawaii follows the employment-at-will doctrine. Under this doctrine, employees can be fired for any reason or no reason. However, there are exceptions to this rule which are used to protect employees. This includes common law protections and statutory protections. Common law protections are laws that are created in courts to fill gaps that have been left by enacted laws. Statutory protections are enacted by the state’s legislature to cover specific subject areas, e.g., Occupational Safety and Health.

This is a summary of Hawaii Whistleblower Laws, make sure to check out the Federal Whistleblower Laws as well.

Whistleblower Rights in Hawaii

Common Law Protections

Employees cannot be discharged for reasons that violate public policy. To determine what constitutes public policy, the courts look at statutes and constitutional provisions that cover cases similar to what has been brought forward by an employee who has been discharged. So, for example, if a statute endorses an individual’s right to collect workers’ compensation, an employer might violate public policy by discharging an employee in retaliation for exercising a right related to workers’ compensation. There are three instances where public policy protects employees from discharge. These are:

  • Refusing to participate in unlawful practices.
  • Performing a legal duty.
  • Exercising a right.

In the past, Hawaii has protected employees using public policy for:

  • Participating in an investigation concerning an employers’ suspected antitrust violations.
  • Making an inquiry into a payroll deduction.
  • Following regulations that are in the interest of public health and safety.

Statutory Protections

General Whistleblower Protection

An employer is not allowed to discharge, alter terms of employment, or in any way discriminate against an employee in retaliation for:

  • Disclosing or intending to disclose a violation of a law, rule, or regulation to the employer or public body.
  • Disclosing or intending to disclose a violation of a contract executed by the state, subdivision of the state, or United States.
  • Participating or intending to participate in an investigation, hearing, or inquiry that is held by a public body or court.

Haw. Rev. Stat. § 378-62.

Discrimination

It is considered an unlawful practice for an employer to discharge, expel, alter terms of employment, or in any way discriminate against an employee in retaliation for opposing unlawful discriminatory practice or for filing a complaint, testifying, or participating in a proceeding regarding discriminatory practices. Under this statute, it is unlawful for an employer to refuse to hire, discharge or in any way discriminate against an individual because of the individual’s race, sex, sexual orientation, age, religion, color, ancestry, disability, marital status, arrest, and court record, or domestic or sexual violence victim status. Haw. Rev. Stat. § 378-2.

Also, carrying out any form of retaliation against an employee because the employee disclosed his or her wages, inquired the wages of other employees, or encouraged other employees to exercise their rights under this statute. Haw. Rev. Stat. § 378-2.3.

Occupational Safety and Health

Under this statute, employers are not allowed to discharge, alter terms of employment, or in any way discriminate against an employee in retaliation for:

  • Refusing to operate or handle any machine, apparatus, or device that is in an unsafe condition.
  • Filing a complaint or instituting a proceeding related to this statute or testifying or intending to testify in such a proceeding.
  • Acting to exercise or exercising on behalf of himself, herself, or others any right endorsed by this statute.
  • Refusing to participate in practices that violate this statute.

Haw. Rev. Stat. § 396-8(e).

Workers’ Compensation

It is against the law for an employer to discharge, suspend or in any way discriminate against an employee because the employee has suffered a work injury that is compensable under the Workers’ Compensation Laws or because the employee has testified in a proceeding related to this statute. Haw. Rev. Stat. § 378-32.

Whistleblower Hotlines in Hawaii

To file a complaint under the discrimination statute, call the Hawaii Civil Rights Commission (HCRC) at (808) 586-8636.

To file a complaint under the Occupational Safety and Health and workers’ compensation statute, call the Hawaii Department of Labor and Industrial Relations at 808 586-9100.

Whistleblower Retaliation Claims in Hawaii

Unless stated otherwise by a statute, whistleblowers are required to file a lawsuit within 2 years of the retaliation.

General Whistleblower Protection

Lawsuits must be filed in an appropriate court within 2 years of the retaliatory action.

Discrimination

Employees who suffer retaliation for reasons related to this statute should file a complaint with the Hawaii Civil Rights Commission (HCRC) within 180 days of the retaliation. Also, lawsuits can be filed within 90 days of receiving a right to sue letter from the HCRC.

Occupational Safety and Health

Complaints under this statute should be filed with the Hawaii Department of Labor and Industrial Relations, Occupational Safety and Health Division (HIOSH) within 60 days of the retaliation.

Workers’ Compensation

Complaints under this statute should be filed with the Hawaii Department of Labor and Industrial Relations, Disability Compensation Division within 30 days of the retaliatory action.

Violation and Retaliation Penalties in Hawaii

Unless stated otherwise by a statute, a court may award a whistleblower who has suffered unlawful retaliatory action a combination or one of the following types of relief:

  • Reinstatement to the previous job position
  • Payment of back wages, front pay.
  • Actual damages
  • Full reinstatement of fringe benefits
  • Litigation costs
  • Plus any other compensation the court deems appropriate.

General Whistleblower Protection

Employers who violate this statute may be liable to pay a civil fine ranging from $500 to $5000. Also, they will be required to fulfill any relief awarded to the employee.

Occupational Safety and Health

In addition to fulfilling the types of reliefs mentioned above, employers who violate this statute may be liable to pay a fine of up to $77,000 per violation. For serious violations, a mandatory penalty of up to $7,700 may be imposed. Fines for repeated and willful violations can reach $77,000, while fines for failing to correct a violation within the prescribed time can result in assessed penalties of up to $7,700 per day.

Discrimination

Employers who violate this statute may be liable to pay a fine ranging from $100 to $1000 per offense. Employers who interfere with a department or agents who are trying to enforce this statute may be liable to pay a fine not more than $1000 or be imprisoned for not more than 1 year, or be punished with both fine and imprisonment. Also, the court can require an employer to fulfill any form of relief awarded to the employee.

Click for an overview of Federal Whistleblower Laws .

More Hawaii Laws

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